On Monday, JDRF held a discussion that drew in experts from around the world. Entitled ‘The Role of Infant Diet in Susceptibility/Resistance to Type 1 Diabetes’, it looked for answers to a big question in type 1 diabetes research – can we run a study to explore the influence that a child’s diet has on their risk of developing the condition?

We already fund a number of studies in this area, the largest of which is TEDDY (The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young), which is following over 8,000 children over several years to see if there is an identifiable ‘trigger’ that could prompt them to develop type 1. However, because these studies take a number of years to complete, it is important for us to hear from experts in the field before embarking on a new project.

Professor Mikael Knip, whose research we reported on in July, is enthusiastic that a large scale prevention project is possible. He is looking at the role of baby formula in type 1, and has so far found that using a special kind of baby formula does not affect the development of the early indicators of type 1.

His opinion is shared by Professor Annette Ziegler, who is involved in the BABYDIET study. She has found that introducing gluten into a child’s diet at either 6 months or 12 months makes no difference to early indicators of type 1. However, Professor Ziegler pointed out that it is very difficult to make sure that people in a study follow the trial diet, or accurately report their diets, over many years – a difficulty that would need to be overcome in any future studies.

Despite these reservations, many of the researchers had found clinical studies such as TEDDY helpful in their work. Some had used its data to look at the role of gluten and coeliac disease, while others looked at probiotic use – without TEDDY, both of these investigations might have required separate, expensive trials that would not have recruited as many people.

There was also a lot of discussion about an up-and-coming area in type 1 research – the role of the ‘microbiome’, or the bacteria that live inside us. Professor Dusko Ehrlich of King’s College London pointed out that the total number of genes from these bacteria is 150 times bigger than the human genome, so we can’t afford to discount them, and early indications are that the bacteria in our gut can influence the development of type 1.

Given these opinions, it looks as though research into infant diet is going to continue to play a role in type 1 research – and that the microbiome is likely to become an increasingly important part of this work.

Photo: Sunset over Vienna by Flickr user cadoc, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licence.

This article originally appeared on the JDRF website.